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CHILDHOOD AND EARLY LIFE.
OROTHY WORDSWORTH was the only
daughter and third child of John and Anne Wordsworth. She was born on Christmas Day, 1771, at Cockermouth, in Cumberland, being a year and nine months younger than her famous brother, the poet. John Wordsworth, the father, was an attorneyat-law, who had attained considerable success in his profession, being the solicitor of the then Earl of Lonsdale, in an old manor house belonging to whose family he resided. Miss Wordsworth's mother was, on the maternal side, descended from an old and distinguished family, being the only daughter of William Cookson, of Penrith, who had married Dorothy Crackenthorp, whose family, we are informed, had, since the early part of the fourteenth century, resided at Newbiggen Hall, Westmoreland. The Wordsworths themselves traced their descent from a Yorkshire family of that name who had settled in the country about the time of the Norman Conquest.
Dorothy had the misfortune to lose her excellent mother when she was a little more than six years old. After this great loss her father's health declined, and she was left an orphan at the early age of twelve. The sources of information concerning her childhood are very meagre.
We cannot doubt that for the qualities of mind and heart which distinguished her she was, in common with the other members of her family — her four brothers, who all won for themselves successful careers
- indebted to her parenthood, and especially to her mother, of whom the poet says :
“ She was the heart
The beauty and gentleness of disposition by which, in after years, Dorothy Wordsworth developed into such a perfect woman were not absent in her early childhood. Although we know so little, we have abundant testimony that as a child she was fittingly named Dorothea — the gift of God — and that then her life of ministry to her poet-brother began. We can well imagine how the little dark-eyed brunette, sparkling and impulsive damsel as she was, and the only girl in the family, became the darling of the circle. In after years, when her favorite and famous brother had entered on the career which she helped so much to stimulate and to perfect, we find in his poems many allusions to her, as well in her prattling childhood as in her mature years. The sight of a butterfly calls to the poet's mind the pleasures of the early home, the time when he and his little playmate “ together chased the butterfly.” The kindness of
a few expressive words.
her child heart is told in He says :
“A very hunter did I rush
Upon the prey; - with leaps and springs
The dust from off its wings.”
The sight of a sparrow's nest, many years after, also served to bring to the poet's remembrance his father's home and his sister's love. The “ bright blue eggs” appeared to him “ a vision of delight.” In them he saw another sparrow's nest, in the years gone by daily visited in company with his little sister.
“Behold, within that leafy shade,
Those bright blue eggs together laid!
The home and sheltered bed,
Was with me when a boy:
And love, and thought, and joy."
It is to her early thoughtfulness that the poet alludes in another poem having reference to the same period. In this poem he represents his sister and her young play-fellows gathering spring flowers, and thus records her prudent“ Foresight”:
“Here are daisies, take your fill;
Pansies, and the cuckoo-flower:
Make your bed or make your bower;
· · · · · · ·
You and Charles and I will walk;
Then will hang on every stalk,
An incident showing the tender sensibility of her nature when a child is also deserving of special mention. In a note to the “Second Evening Voluntary," Wordsworth says: “My sister, when she first heard the voice of the sea from this point (the high ground on the coast of Cumberland overlooking Whitehaven and the sea beyond it) and beheld the sea spread before her, burst into tears. Our family then lived at Cockermouth, and this fact was often mentioned among us as indicating the sensibility for which she was so remarkable."
The death of their mother was, however, the signal for separation. Her brother William was sent to school at Hawkshead, in North Lancashire, and Dorothy went to reside with her maternal grandfather at Penrith. Subsequently, during her brother's school and college days, we are informed that she lived chiefly at Halifax with her cousin, occasionally making lengthened visits at Forncett, to her cousin, Dr. Cookson, Canon of Windsor. Although they were in this way for some years deprived of each other's society, except during occasional college vacations, they were not forgotten by each other, and their early love did not grow cold. Wordsworth, having gone to Cambridge in 1787, during one of his early vacations visited his relations at Penrith, when he was for a short period restored to his sister's society. In his autobiographical poem, “ The Prelude," he has thus recorded the fact:
“In summer, making quest for works of art,
It cannot be doubted that the poetic tendency of Dorothy Wordsworth's mind, like that of her brother,